Celebrations for the 75th anniversary of VE Day will be remarkably different under lockdown, but our thoughts are still with the folks 75 years ago who reached the end of almost six years of war on many fronts. Sharon Ridge has very kindly offered to share her mother Doreen’s written memories of that day in Stockport. The introduction is written by Sharon, and the extract contains her mother’s own words…
My mother was born the fourth child of Harry and Jane Greaves at 13 Aberdeen Crescent, Edgeley on February 22nd 1927. At the age of 16 after leaving The Convent Girls School (now part of Stockport Grammar) she went to work at the Naval Depot at The Springfield Mill on Longshut Lane working as a switchboard operator and clerk. This also contained a hush hush department called the Admiralty Signals Establishment that she later found out was doing ground breaking research into radar.
Extract from The Faithful Tea Party by Doreen Sutherland
“The New Year of 1945 brought increasing hopes for the end of conflict. The Germans had been pushed right back into their own country and convoys were now able to reach Britain without any difficulty. The Italians had surrendered, and the Russians were advancing from the east. We all knew Germany couldn’t last much longer. The Luftwaffe was completely broken, and Laord Haw-Haw’s broadcasts had ceased. We no longer worried when the moon was bright (“bomber’s moon” as we called it) but we knew that in London there was still the danger of V2s. We were very busy at the Naval Depot, although it was never as frenzied as it had been in the preparations for “D” day.
One beautiful May morning I walked to the Springfield Mill as usual. It was about quarter to eight, and I had plenty of time to arrive at work for the eight o’clock start. I always said ” Good Morning ” to an old chap I saw each day on his way to buy a newspaper. But today he came running up to me, waving the paper excitedly. “Y’t not gowin to work are you luv”, he said. “Yes”, I replied. ” But war’s over ! They’ve just announced it on’t wireless.” I ran along Shaw Heath and up Longshut Lane to the Naval Depot to find out if this was true. ” Go home luv,” said the policeman on the gate. “The war’s over and everyone has got a holiday to celebrate”. I don’t think I had ever felt so excited in my life. I ran home to find my mother in tears of happiness. She knew that Bernard was safe at last, and a terrible burden had been lifted. She prayed, thanking God for the end of the war. I told her I was going to see my friend Mavis, and thus began one of the most exciting days of my life: V.E.Day.
The streets were suddenly full of people laughing and shouting. The church bells rang for the first time in six years and the mills sounded their hooters in a wonderful cacophony of sound. Every householder managed to produce a Union Jack to hang out of their windows. My mother brought out our flag from the top of the wardrobe where it had lain since the Coronation, and hung it out of the front bedroom window. Bunting miraculously appeared and was hung across the streets, and people made paper flowers from any colours available to decorate their front doors and windows. Tables were set up in the middle of most streets, ready for the evening parties. Tinned fruit that had been jealously guarded for years was produced for the communal parties, and everybody had something to contribute. Children were dressed in costume, if they had any, just as we used to dress up for May Day. Nearly all adults adorned themselves with something red, white and blue. The pubs opened all day long and the streets, bright with bunting, were crowded with people wherever you went.
The lovely May day was reluctant to give way to the night, but eventually darkness fell and the town sprang into a blazing sea of light . Every house had its curtains flung back in triumph, with the light flooding into the streets. The street lamps were switched on for the first time in six years , and I gazed at the beautifully decorated trams and buses covered in flowers and sparkling with coloured lights, which ran between Manchester and Hazel Grove until early morning. The Town Hall and the War Memorial were floodlit. There was dancing in the Ballroom at the Town Hall and the music was relayed through loud speakers onto the street. People danced arm in arm, laughing and kissing with strangers in the euphoria. Crowds danced across Wellington Road, singing , ” We’ve won the war ! We’ve won the war !” THe whole town was full of ecstatic people triumphantly singing ” There’ll always be an England “; “Roll Out the Barrel”; “There’ll be Blue Birds Over the White Cliffs of Dover”; ” We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line” etc.
I went to a party at the Carlton Cinema with Mavis. Her father was the manager, and after a few drinks we both sang and danced on the stage ! Afterwards we joined the huge crowds to dance in the streets . We met my mam and dad, who were enjoying watching all the merriment, and for once it didn’t matter if I was home late ! The town was full of soldiers of many nationalities, all celebrating as wildly as we were. Some climbed the lamp posts and hung their hats on top, others dived in the many horse troughs which were still in place in 1945.
We danced and sang all night. It was 3.30am when I walked down Bulkeley Street to go home to bed. Dawn was already in the sky as I dragged my tired feet up the stairs after the most exciting night of my young life. The war had ended: but so had an era.”
Lockdown VE Day 2020
Many events have had to be cancelled of course, but there are still many ways you can mark the occasion whilst abiding by social distancing rules. The Big Picnic For Hope encourages you to have a picnic at home and share your experiences with many others doing the same. Perhaps a ‘socially distant’ street party with everyone on their own front balcony/garden if possible. If you’re brave enough to eat 1940s style, why not use some of these original recipes for a VE Day lunch/picnic at home? Some more ideas for the day can be found here.
Thanks again to Sharon for sharing her mother’s story.